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Navigating the Red Tape of Historic Homes

Navigating the Red Tape of Historic Homes

Rethink hauling in the bulldozers if you own a home that’s over sixty years old. Here’s all you need to know.

Structural alterations to your property require a permit from the Provincial Heritage Resource Agency (PHRA) and failure to acquire one not only could have legal implications for you but also may result in your home forfeiting its heritage status and, it follows, its investment appeal. The bottom line: ensure you get the correct permissions before removing so much as a single brick.

Here’s how:

Determine your Home’s Age

This is easily done with a quick look at the building plans. Unfortunately, there are many cases where plans have been lost or destroyed over the years, forcing owners to use additional sources such as title deeds and old municipal surveys, or to turn to experienced researchers. An exciting development with the potential to transform the relationship between preservation and development has been the inclusion of heritage layers on various municipalities’ Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, the City of Cape Town and Drakenstein Municipality are leading the way in this regard (while high-level discussions are currently taking place in Johannesburg, it will be a number of years before this facility becomes available). In time, the South African Heritage Resources Information System (SAHRIS) will also provide this valuable information.

Spread the Word

Once you’ve determined that your property is older than 60 years, and provided you still want to move ahead, an application to the relevant PHRA must be prepared. The law requires that interested and affected parties be provided with the opportunity to comment before an application is made (clear evidence of this step must be included in the final submission). A proactive approach is recommended – a number of case studies show projects that were delayed or cancelled at great cost and of heritage resources being damaged because the consultation process was weak.

The minimum requirement the PHRA sets out is that a clear notice must appear in a local newspaper and on the site itself announcing the plan to alter or demolish a structure and calling for comments (which must be directed to the PHR A office). In addition to this, owners and developers are advised to meet with local ratepayers associations, heritage groups or community representatives where applicable. The input of these parties early in the process may increase the chances of a successful application.

Fill in the Forms

This deep covered front stoep is characteristic of the 1930s period.

This deep covered front stoep is characteristic of the 1930s period.

The information required by the PHRA will vary according to the magnitude of the proposal. A minor alteration may require only the submission of the application form and photographs, while a major alteration or demolition could require full historical, archaeological and architectural reports, detailed plans and a spectrum of photographs.

For any significant proposal, put together a team of certified heritage practitioners (heritage architects, historians and archaeologists, among others) to prepare a comprehensive submission. This will help the PHRA to deal accurately and timeously with the application. In any event, for larger developments, the PHRA is likely to call for a Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA), requiring expert input.

The PHRA application form requires a description of the manner in which the proposed work will be carried out and a motivation for such work. Again, an experienced team of heritage practitioners will be able to assist in completing these sections effectively. As old buildings require special treatment in terms of ‘specifications, techniques and planning of alterations’, it is also vital to hire contractors with relevant experience and craftsmanship. The credentials of these firms must appear on the application form.

Hold Thumbs. 

After the signed application form, additional plans, reports and photographs have been submitted, the PHRA Council will meet to decide whether or not to grant a permit. Ideally this process should take four to six weeks, but certain conditions may be attached to the approval of a permit, including the full recording of a structure, the donation of items to the PHRA’s materials bank and an amendment of the drawings. If any stakeholder disagrees with the decision of the PHRA, they have 14 days to lodge an appeal and an appeals committee will then consider the matter. It is important for owners and developers to be aware that the PHRA will not be responsible for any costs or losses as a result of the suspension or retraction of a permit.

Source: The Heritage Portal

Contact Details

Text: Jocelyn Warrington and Andrea Vinassa

Photographs: Elsa Young, Supplied

Find out more about The Heritage Portal at



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